Thank You, Author Susan Morse

It’s Blog Tag and I am it. I am also over a year past due in my response to Susan Morse, author of The Dog Stays in the Picture and The Habit, two wonderful memoirs that showcase her talent at creative non-fiction. Thank you, Susan!

What are you working on?

In 2016 I am working on this crazy fun project using my father’s unpublished manuscript, The Summer Bachelor. I am editing his writing (circa 1970) in order to produce a coherent, serialized work of fiction. I draw on his content and work it to fit my story line. Blogging has been the perfect writing project for someone like me, working full-time. I sometimes feel like an archeologist.

How does your work differ from others in its genre?

Serialized fiction was common once upon a time. It can still be read in magazine form and on-line. Check out the frenzy of responses to this article in the Washington Post. But I have not found anyone who, like me, has brought a vintage manuscript to readers using a present-day serial. And what writer gets to riff on her Dad’s humor, or complete a scene he hadn’t finished?

Am I ghostwriting? Am I like one of those writers who has completed projects for deceased authors like Robert Parker or Pat Conroy? For this project, I am working somewhere between heavy editing and collaboration. (I definitely credit the original author.) But I really understand how ghostwriters must struggle, trying to understand an author.

I briefly explored this issue: I wanted to find a name for what I am doing. I learned that intrigue and legal ambiguity often surround ghost-writing. An involved editor may appear to be a ghost-writer. (Is that a pun?) For example, Ted Sorenson had to prove he hadn’t written JFK’s Profiles in Courage, for which Kennedy received a Pulitzer.

I found reassurance in a NYT article from 1980. In it, Dudley Clendinen quoted an unnamed Sunday Times editor speaking about editing Kissinger’s biography. The editor said “…it was a matter of shortening sentences, changing the order of stories, tightening up—a craftsman’s job. We call it subbing here. You call it copyediting.” The editor went on, “a bricklayer working to an architect’s plan.”

That’s it! That’s what I am doing. (Although I have changed the “plans” a little too.)

Why do you write what you do?

I edit grant proposals for income.  I occasionally write letters to the editor or short articles because I can’t help myself. I loved writing creative non-fiction in The Lost Chapters because I had a personal mystery to solve. I like writing from personal experience in short form as well: I’m thinking of doing a travel piece about visiting one’s young adult son! Fiction is harder for me. Fictional characters do not haunt my kitchen or pop into my head. I prefer taking real people, learning about them, and telling their story drawing on my imagination.

What is your writing process?

I constructed the storyline for An Ad Man’s New York Summer and wrote about 10 draft posts over the winter of 2015. I began posting them in August. The each week I would take my laptop, my father’s original manuscript, and my poster sized org chart of Alan Robinson’s world and head to Roos Roast to review the post for that week. In the RR’s hip, ‘new millennium’ environment, I would return to the 1967 story, check spelling and references, and send it off.

This fall, as I wrap up the story, I am turning to the manuscript again, especially to the onionskin pages with my Dad’s pencil edits–the short bits he never rewrote. I use these and my own tools (my calendar of Alan’s summer, my agency chart, a diagram of relationships) and fill in my plot notes with his detail (especially dialogue).  I draft by hand in a steno book.

I have the ending in my head but I still have to write it…

Tagging Stephanie Kadel Taras PhD for her wonderful memoir and celebration of Appalachia, Mountain GirlsIt is a delightful read about growing up in West Virginia. Stephanie helps others preserve family and institutional histories at Time Pieces Personal Biographies.


©Lisa Anderson 2016



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